KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Christmas is often a difficult time to be separated from loved ones during a combat deployment. This year the chaplains of 3rd Brigade Combat Team “Rakkasans,” 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), sought to bring the Christmas spirit to the soldiers of Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan.
“We usually expect to see an increase in family and relationship problems following the holidays,” said Capt. Justine Majeres, the brigade psychologist. “The stress of being away from family is only compounded by our environment.”
This is an issue that the 3rd Brigade religious support teams were keenly aware of as they prepared for the holiday season.
“The message of Christmas is extremely relevant to our lives right now,” said Capt. Jeffery Crispin, Battalion chaplain, 626th Brigade Support Battalion.
“Our soldiers need peace and hope now more than ever,” said Capt. Willie Newton, battalion chaplain, 3rd Special Troops Battalion. “That’s what we’re here to give them. We need to be a calming presence in the midst of the storm.”
The chaplains of the 3rd BCT collaborated together in four different services to mark the holiday, including two Catholic masses, a Protestant candlelight Christmas Eve service, and a Protestant Christmas morning service.
These worship opportunities were open for anyone who wanted to celebrate.
“Getting a chance to go to midnight mass in Afghanistan was very meaningful to me,” said Sgt. Michael Mason, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. “It brought a lot of comfort and encouragement.”
All of the services were well attended. In particular the candlelight service had over 80 soldiers present, filling the small chapel. “Out of all the holiday events I’ve helped with, this one had the best response,” said Spc. Erika Espeseth, chaplain’s assistant, 3rd STB. “I think the service went really well.”
Emotions ran deep throughout the congregations as the Christmas story was told through the reading of scripture and the singing of carols. Many soldiers found tears in their eyes.
“Being deployed could easily make Christmas eve feel like just another day,” said Spc. Jeffery Rebo, 3-187. “But, tonight, coming here and singing these carols and hearing the word reminded me that I’m not alone. It helped me a lot.”
During the final songs the congregation lit small handheld candles as they sang Silent Night.
At the conclusion, one of the Chaplains offered a short reflection: “The good news of Christmas is ‘Emmanuel,’ God is with us, we don’t have to be alone.”
As the service ended, those in attendance walked into the cold winter night with the warmth of Christmas in their hearts.
Although the long-term impact of the services and celebrations cannot be seen, yet. The efforts and contributions to the welfare of the soldiers by the Chaplains of Salerno could not go unnoticed.